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State high court to consider pot dispensaries
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The state's high court will attempt to clarify marijuana's hazy legal status in California.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday voted unanimously to review how cities and counties regulate marijuana dispensaries.

The court will address whether local governments can bar the pot shops despite voter passage of Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation. The court also will consider the continued conflict between state and federal authorities, who don't recognize Proposition 215. Under federal law, marijuana is illegal in all forms.

A Los Angeles-based appellate court last year struck down Long Beach's attempt to license pot stores, ruling the local ordinance conflicted with federal law.

Another appellate court upheld Riverside's right to close and prohibit dispensaries despite Proposition 215.

Since then, several cities including Long Beach have shuttered clubs or banned them from their boundaries like Riverside. Other cities such as San Francisco suspended issuing new permits because of the rulings.

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, those appellate ruling are no longer valid.

The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments for the cases, and lawyers involved in the cases predicted it could take more than a year for the court to rule.

The court's decision to weigh in on marijuana comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal officials have launched a crackdown on the proliferation of dispensaries in the state. The Justice Department cited the Long Beach case as another reason why it believes medical marijuana in California is illegal.

Pro-marijuana forces said the court's action Wednesday was a good omen for supporters.

"These cases were very problematic for patients and their ability to safely and legally access a medication that works for them," said Joe Elford, chief counsel of Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "We're very pleased that local governments will now be without the means to deny access to medical marijuana for patients in their communities, at least until or unless the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise."

Elford's group along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Santa Cruz County urged the court last month to review the Long Beach case.

The last time the state Supreme Court took up a medical marijuana case was in 2008 when it ruled that companies can fire employees found to have used marijuana even if they have a doctor's recommendation.